Lightning strikes the clock tower in Back to the Future. Panoramic helicopter shots sweep over the hills of Middle-earth in Lord of the Rings. Jack and Rose hold each other on the bow of the Titanic. These are images that we may see over and over again on our living room TVs, but there’s nothing like seeing them on the big screen.
King of the world – or at least the box office – James Cameron has said that watching movies like Avatar on an iPhone “is dumb.” While I won’t totally discount the value of being able to consume entertainment on the go on a portable device, I do agree a massive screen and a quality sound system – not to mention viewing with an audience – is key to the full experience of epic blockbusters like Raiders of the Lost Ark and Star Wars.
So as Jurassic Park heads back to theaters for its 20th anniversary this weekend (with an added dimension), let’s take a moment to celebrate a few of the movies built for a big screen and a big audience, starting with the 1993 dinosaur epic now playing in 3-D.
The first time I saw this Steven Spielberg (talk about the real king of the box office) movie, I was too young to see it, younger than little Tim (played by Joseph Mazzello). I was at my aunt and uncle’s house, where the adults and my older cousins were watching it on TV after I was supposed to be tucked in bed. This was my hide-behind-the couch moment, when I snuck into the den, curious what had my family so captivated. Of course, I gave myself away with a small scream as soon as the T. rex appeared onscreen.
Since then, I’ve seen the dino adventure plenty of times without letting loose any screams, but watching Jurassic Park 3D in IMAX brought back a little bit of that childlike terror. The T. rex is of course famous for its size, so only the big screen (and a theme park ride, I suppose) can come close to doing this extinct creature justice. The T. rex’s thundering growl sounded so much closer and more dangerous on the theater’s surround sound. And even the less intimidating, herbivorous dinosaurs got more magnificent on the big screen. As John Williams’ stirring, adventure-ready theme music swells, the first shots tilting up at the massive Brachiosaurus fill the theater audience with just as much wonder as we see in Dr. Sattler and Dr. Grant’s faces upon their first glimpse at a live dinosaur.
Back to the Future
Back to the Future is my favorite movie, so I’ve taken every chance I’ve had to see this 1985 action-comedy in theaters. Last month, I got to watch Back to the Future on the largest screen I’ve yet seen it on, the Arclight Hollywood’s 32- by 68-foot Cinerama Dome.
The opening scene when Marty overloads the amplifier in Doc Brown’s garage-turned-home is really made for surround sound. When Marty hits those final switches, the buzz of the amp fills the whole auditorium and you can feel that single power chord rumble in your gut. But beyond the awe that comes with seeing iconic shots on the big screen – like the DeLorean first traveling back in time leaving behind twin fire trails – watching Back to the Future in a packed theater also comes with the sheer delight of sharing that experience with a big crowd (at the Arclight it was an audience of about 800). Watching the movie at home, you’re not surrounded by hundreds of people who are laughing at Christopher Lloyd’s brilliant physical comedy and cheering when George wipes out Biff with that smooth left hook. At this latest screening, near the end of the movie, when Marty and Doc are just minutes away from that fateful strike of lightning, I noticed a kid sitting a few rows in front of me who was probably 9 or 10 years old. It was pretty clear he hadn’t seen the film before – he was visibly nervous, hands grasping his head, jumping in his seat a little at each moment the intensity increased (like when Doc slips off the ledge of the clock tower). I was jealous, but delighted to catch a glimpse of someone experiencing Back to the Future for the first time.
The Lion King
I saw The Lion King during its original release in 1994. The earliest memory I have of seeing a movie in a theater is the climactic fight scene, when Simba and Scar claw at each other, surrounded by brushfire that turns the night sky red – at age five, that scene frightened me enough to crawl into my mom’s lap. So I knew I was in for a fresh experience when I saw Lion King as an adult in 2011 upon its 3-D re-release.
The Lion King on the big screen is impressive from the very first frame – the sunrise at the beginning of “The Circle of Life” opening sequence. The gorgeous visuals created by Disney animators and the Zulu vocals are just that much more impressive when given the scope of a big screen and the quality and volume of a theater sound system. But most memorable was the stampede scene: When a sea of wildebeests charging right at you fills your whole line of vision, it gets your heart pumping a little faster than that scene does on your living room TV.
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
I saw the fourth Mission: Impossible movie at midnight, so I was among a great crowd of fanboys (and fangirls) that got really into it. Watching this in IMAX was definitely the way to go for an immersive experience. Sitting in a row that had me nearly at the bottom of the screen, peering up at the Burj Khalifa, I really felt like I was climbing along the tallest building in the world along with Tom Cruise.
I first saw Titanic on the big screen three years ago, when Santa Monica’s Aero Theatre played it in 70 mm. The image that stuck with me the most in a way it hadn’t on a smaller screen was the moment when flares are fired off of the ship. It’s a very wide shot, with the Titanic surrounded by masses of dark, quiet water. So much of the film up until that point had been establishing the Titanic’s impressive size, but the first time we see it in a very wide shot, only on the big screen are you struck by just how small and alone the ship looks in that ocean. When Titanic got its 3-D, remastered re-release last year, what really stood out that time was the movie’s costumes. There was all this gorgeous, intricate detail on the Edwardian clothes – especially Rose’s red dinner dress with beaded embroidery – that couldn’t be seen on a smaller screen.
There are many other movies I’ve enjoyed seeing the way they were meant to be seen – getting immersed in Pandora with Avatar, feeling like I’m on the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland with Raiders of the Lost Ark, singing along to the theme song of Ghostbusters with the crowd at an outdoor screening – but there are still plenty more left on my Must See on the Big Screen list. Lawrence of Arabia is near the top. I have yet to see Julie Andrews run through the hills alive with the sound of music when the hills look true-to-size. And I still want to see the original Star Wars movies the way they first wowed audiences in 1977 (maybe EW’s CapeTown Festival will be my chance to do that).
So PopWatchers, tell us, what movies would you like to see on the big screen someday? Which classic blockbusters have you already gotten to see in theaters? And what did you think of Jurassic Park 3D?
Follow Emily on Twitter: @EmilyNRome
Welcome to ‘Jurassic Park': An oral history
‘Titanic’ is a great film. It’s also the movie that gave rise to hater culture
‘Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol’ featurette: They let Tom Cruise do what!?